Friday, February 11, 2011

Watching the Culture War in Right Wing Alberta

The latest Environics Research Group Poll of 1,011 random Albertans 18 years old and over, in six geographic segments, Edmonton, Calgary, small cities, rural south, central and northern done between January 20 and 31, 2011 with a margin of error of +/-3.1% 95 times out of 100.

Good News for the PCs?  Not So Much!
The results are very interesting and imply some surprising changes.  Notwithstanding the turmoil in health care from Duckett to Sherman and the emergency room crisis, the PC support not only held, it improved from a pretty consistent base of 34% in three surveys from October 2009, March and November 2010 to 38% today.

There is a misplaced sense of relief in the PCs based on finally having hit the presuming the only way to go it up.  Remember Premier Stelmach announced he is leaving politics (eventually) on January 25, with wall to wall media coverage and right in the middle of this poll.

What is the contributing factor of the 4% bounce for the PCs?  Some will say the Stelmach departure announcement and I expect that is partly right. Others will say the Wildrose Alliance has peaked and the support  was a parking place to send a message of dissatisfaction to Premier Stelmach.  He seems to have gotten the message by quitting so it is time to return to the PC fold. That is partly right too.  It looks like it is definitely right when yo see a 10% up tick for the PCs outside Edmonton and Calgary...that will be cause for a sigh of relief in Toryland.  The anger fomenting in rural Alberta over land bills and fears of private property rights in the face of increased Ministerial power over people is not turning folks off the PC or causing them to rush to the Alliance.  In fact the Alliance support in rural and small city Alberta is down 8%.  Go figure

Bottom line, the PCs are in minority government territory no matter which way you slice the numbers.  That is merely survival at best and not success by any measure given the dynasty they have created.

Wildrose Alliance Peaked and Piqued?
The question about the WAP is how solid is their support and what level is it at when push come to shove at the actual ballot box?  As a place to protest the Alliance has been handy since the Calgary Glenmore By-election when the Deputy Premier quit.  The Alliance won but the Liberal vote held and the PCs dropped to third place from a very comfortable margin of support from before.  The message was being sent by some Calgary PCs staying home and others in open anger with their perceived loss of influence on the Premier's office from the Ralph Klein days.

The drop of 2% in Calgary for the PCs and the Alliance with a 3% drop by the NDP resulted in a 5% bounce for the Liberals.  Calgary is getting interesting and volatile now too as voters there showed with the election of Mayor Naheed Nenshi, an Alberta Party supporter.  Danielle Smith is more than Calgary-centric but the "entitled" power elites in Calgary now longer control the vote results.  Nenshi proved that last October.

The dramatic drop of Alliance support in Edmonton (-7%) and the Rest of Alberta (-8) has to be unnerving for the Smith supporters. The anger with the PCs and the media hype over Smith versus Stelmach is over so Albertans are now taking a serious look at the Alliance and their politics.

Whither the Liberals and the NDP?
The overall results show the Liberals up 3% and the NDP down 3%, and this poll was done before Dr. Swann quit the Liberal leadership.  The NDP are trending down 3% everywhere in Alberta.  If this holds they may be seen as irrelevant in the next election, especially if the major trends are who will win the culture war on the right and who in the centre can we count on to replace both the Morton and Smith factions in the social conservative and public service stifling approach they both take.

For the Liberals there is some reason to hope not all is lost with a 3% overall bounce coming mostly from Calgary and Edmonton areas.  At 22% they are within the margin of error with the Alliance.  Will they be the choice for opposition or will the Alliance get the nod?  Way too early to tell and lots more political drama to unfold before that question is top of mind.

Things Not Considered!
There are two serious other issues not captured or reported in this poll.  The Undecided is said to be 18% overall slightly more than past polls.  However the poll results are blended answers of two questions.  "If a provincial  election were held today, which one of the following parties would you vote for?"  The second question is of the Undecided. "Perhaps you have not yet made up your mind; is there nevertheless a party you might be presently inclined to support?"

When you back out the second "inclined to support question" you get the true undecided.  I called Tony Coulson of Environics to find out the actual Undecided without the leaning aspect.  It is a whopping 27% - not the blended decided and leaning numbers that left a 18% Undecided!

That is very significant to show the volatility of the Alberta voter these days.  We don't know how that 27% distributes between Edmonton, Calgary and the Rest of Alberta but with a population of 1/3 in each segment, it could be significant in final seat results. If you back out that 9% leaning vote and distribute it proportionately with the Decided votes the hard core support for the PCs and the Alliance is significantly softer and less than reported.

What: No Alberta Party?
Finally there is no reference to the Alberta Party in the results.  I understood that the Alberta Party was excluded from the November 2010 Environics Poll because they did not have a seat. In all fairness that was true for the most part in this survey period.  Dave Taylor joined the Alberta Party as its first MLA on January 25th, right in the middle of the data gathering.  However, next time I expect the Alberta Party will be included.  It will be interesting to see what impact the Alberta Party has overall and on Liberal, NDP and progressives in the PCs who are afraid of that party moving more to the right under Morton.